Category Archives: Hugh Patterson

Concentration for Kids

In coaching Juniors, the hardest task I face is getting my players to completely focus on the task at hand, sitting down to play chess. Because it’s a tournament as opposed to a friendly game with nothing at stake, my team members must be able to fully concentrate on their games. While this is difficult enough for adults, the task becomes doubly difficult when dealing with children or teenagers. Over the years I’ve tried many techniques, some panning out better than others. To help you avoid trying methods that don’t work, I’ll share with you some of the techniques I employ, methods that actually work!

You have to keep in mind that young minds tend to become distracted very easily. In our youth, we’re explorers of the world around us, a world in which everything is seemingly new. It’s “seemingly new” because youngsters are often experiencing things for the first time. Add to this the simple fact that children and teenagers haven’t learned the art of self discipline and you have a recipe for scattered and disjointed thoughts. This translates to a lack of focus and chess is a game that requires absolute focus. We cannot blame youngsters for lacking the ability to totally concentrate on a specific task, especially for long periods of time which is required when playing in chess tournaments. However, we can help them develop concentration skills that will serve them well in chess and more so if life!

The first problem I have to solve is one that most parents overlook which is their child’s diet. Many youngsters with take in high levels of sugar which causes them to become hyperactive. An active mind is crucial to chess. However, a hyperactive mind is a mind that is thinking in a disjointed way, seemingly in seven different directions at once. This means that the ability to focus becomes extremely difficult. Then there’s the simple fact that this high level of artificial energy will wear off quickly, leaving one feeling very tired (usually when the brain is needed most). Then there’s the individual who eats foods like hamburgers and french fries which leave them feeling lethargic which means their brain is struggling to go in even a single direction. Therefore, my students are given strict dietary guidelines for tournaments and I make sure their parents enforce them. The rule is simple: No sugar with the exception of fresh fruit. Meals prior to and during the tournament must be light. You cannot expect to concentrate unless your feed your brain wisely. I carefully explain to my students and their parents that the brain’s reaction with certain substances can lead to dreadful results due to the end product of that sugary biochemical reaction. Since most of my kids love science, they find this of great interest.

The next thing I have my students do to get into the zone of absolute concentration is either Yoga, Tai Chi or some form of physical exercise such as martial arts. Physical activity stimulates the flow of blood throughout your body, carrying much needed oxygen to your brain. Exercise helps to wake you up. Therefore, my students engage in some physical activity prior to their tournaments. I highly recommend Tai Chi because it really helps when it comes to centering yourself. Being centered means being having control of both body and mind. The forms used in this softer martial art require focus and concentration but in a very natural way. If you engage in an activity that requires too much concentration prior to the chess tournament, you may find that you’ve expended some of your ability to concentrate and focus before you really need it (when playing chess). Even simple exercises can be employed as long as you don’t overdo it.

Now for the brain warm up. Of course, my students will play practice games prior to their tournament games. However, I make them do a series of brain games to hone their ability to focus and concentrate. The first thing they do is play a few rounds of Solitaire, that old standby game found on most computers. The reason I have them play Solitaire is because it requires a small amount of focus, specifically in the area of pattern recognition. I build up the level of focus through the series of brain games my students engage in. Next I have my students count cards. That’s right, counting cards as in Black Jack. Of course, I don’t tell them it’s part of being able to successfully play Black Jack. With card counting, you assign three sets of numerical values to the various cards in the deck and keep track of the numerical count. I don’t want to turn this into a card counting lesson so you can look this up online. The point is that my students will have to focus and concentrate a little harder than when they were playing Solitaire. Again, it helps with pattern recognition.

Lastly, I have my students do a series of chess puzzles. The puzzles start off easy and get harder as we go along. The puzzles I use will require the students to look at the entire board. It’s important that they don’t start their games with tunnel vision, looking only at the part of the board where all the action is taking place. They need to see the entire board and do threat assessments, looking for potential threats such as hanging pieces, etc. The puzzles I use cover these issues.

We end our warm up sessions with a talk about good sportsmanship. Being a gracious winner and even more gracious loser is an absolute must with me. Act poorly and you are off the team. I tell my students that if they win they should consider the simple fact that their opponent probably isn’t feeling great about losing and thus ask themselves how they would feel if they lost and the winner was jumping up and down, screaming with joy. Shake hands and say good game! When losing I tell my students that becoming upset and crying only serves to make the victor’s win more sweet (there are a lot of sore winners on the junior chess circuit here). In short be kind no matter what the result.

So this is the basis of how I get my students to concentrate going into their tournaments. It works for adults as well! As for results, my students have owned many local titles for the last three years so I must be doing something right. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson

You Can Bring a Horse to Water but…

There’s an old saying, “you can bring a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” That neatly sums up what many chess teachers face, the student who just doesn’t want to learn how to play the game. Of course, in every teaching environment, there’s always at least one student who just isn’t into the subject matter being taught. However, when you’re extremely dedicated to teaching and have even one student who isn’t learning, you ask yourself “what am I doing wrong?” It can eat away at you, causing you to focus on that one failure. Rather than think about the many students who have learned from you, you fixate on the one student that didn’t. I once suffered from this problem but have come up with a way to put your mind at ease when it comes to not reaching every single one of your students.

It’s easy to become discouraged when you first start teaching, especially when you’re not connecting with a student. You question your own skills as a teacher. Teachers want every student to feel as passionate as they do about the subject being taught. One of my greatest joys in life is watching my students debate the merits of an opening or specific move. I teach employing the Socratic Method which encourages debate and verbal exchanges of ideas between teacher and student or student and student. I teach my students to question everything, including what I teach them. They are engaged and love their chess class, well at least 99% of them. This leaves 1% who have been brought to the waters of chess knowledge and refuse to drink!

I’ve been teaching and coaching chess for a while so I know that the overwhelming majority of my students have learned a great deal from me and enjoy their chess classes. However, that one student who doesn’t want to learn troubles me. He or she concerns me because, before I dismiss that student as someone who has no interest in chess (which happens), I need to ensure that I’m not part of the root cause of this lack of interest in chess. Therefore, I ask myself a series of questions to help determine the actual problem.

As teachers, we must always remember that learning is not a “one size fits all” affair. People learn differently from one another. People experience things in a way that are unique to themselves, learning being included in this. Of course, in a classroom environment, there is a general structure that students follow but that structure must be altered, even ever so slightly, to accommodate these unique learning personalities. Thus, the first question I ask myself is “am I getting through to my uninterested student? Is the student having trouble comprehending the information I present to them.? To answer this, I spend some one on one time with the student in question, just the two of us sitting at a chessboard. I will try giving a lesson to this student and determine his or her level of comprehension, again one on one. This can often be the root of the problem, an inability to make sense of the information being presented which leads to frustration and an eventual dislike of the subject matter being taught. One thing I ask of all my students is that, should I give an explanation that doesn’t make sense to them, they should raise their hand and ask me to explain it again, in a different way. Just because one explanation works for the majority of students doesn’t mean everyone will understand it. I keep simplifying my explanation until the student who initially didn’t understand now comprehends it fully.

Some of the students I’ve had trouble engaging have been turned around by lightening things up or presenting chess in terms of real life situations. When I teach in Juvenile Detention Facilities (the polite way of saying jail for teenagers), I present the game of chess using a gang analogy. This makes sense to guys who come from gangs. They understand the the overall game principles I’m teaching them because they have a real life example included in the explanations. I use sports analogies as well. I make a point of finding out what my students interests are outside of their chess class so I can create analogies specifically for them. The only way you can come up with analogies that work is to know something about the students you teach. If you’re teaching a large class, which I do a lot, try asking the question “what’s your favorite sport” to the group. You’ll find that the majority of students will hone in on one particular sport. You now have a basis for your analogies and often the one student that doesn’t show an interest in chess will have a keen interest in sports.

Keep it light as well. Chess needs to be fun for children and teenagers. If you make your lessons dry and boring your students will feel like they’re watching paint dry. I come up with some outlandish stories to accompany the games I use in my lectures. My students are completely engaged. In my classes, it’s not uncommon for a lecture game to have been played between a blind Samurai and a clever Wolf. Engage your students by asking them questions. Don’t stand at a demo board for an hour muttering away and expect your students to stay awake. I’d fall asleep and I love chess. It’s supposed to be fun!

Lastly, you sometimes have to accept the simple fact that not everyone wants to learn how to play chess. There are students whose parents stuck them in the chess class either thinking it would help them become smarter or give the parents something to brag about. In the end, the student isn’t going to take up chess as a hobby. With these students, there’s not much you can do. Personally, I have them sit down with me at the chessboard, start talking about sports and music and have them make a few moves on the board. A little more talk and a few more moves. After a while, a full game has been played and perhaps the student views the game in a better light. Sometimes it works, some times it doesn’t. In the end, if you’ve honestly given it your best shot, you can sleep well at night. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson

Chess Hustlers

Chess players are a lot like musicians, running the personality spectrum from absolutely insane to completely sane and everything in between. As a musician, I’ve played with other musicians who were absolutely out of their minds but brilliant artists, always making up for their lunacy with great playing. The world of music is filled with every type of personality as is the world of chess. Some of the craziest chess players I’ve met have been full time chess hustlers. These are the guys you see clustered around tables in big cities, offering to play you for a small fee. In New York, it’s Washington Square park and in San Francisco, it used to be Powell Street, until a real estate developer thought them a visual blight. Here’s what he did to get rid of them:

He tried calling the police to complain about a bunch of undesirables that were frightening his building’s tenants. According to him, those undesirables needed to be promptly removed. The police found the complaint unwarranted since the supposed undesirables were gathered across the street from the property rather than directly in front of it. He complained to the board of supervisors and the mayor’s office who were far to busy to deal with petty nuisance issues. He then upped his game by calling the police back and telling them there was illegal gambling and drug dealing taking place. That warranted police attention, even though he lied about the activities taking place.

I’d be lying if I suggested that the small group of chess hustlers wasn’t at least a bit eccentric and perhaps rough looking. However, marching to your own beat in life doesn’t make you a threat. Nor does wearing tattered clothing, after all, I made a minor career of such fashion during punk rock’s heyday. These guys love chess and either didn’t have a desire to play tournaments or had emotional issues that kept them away from competitive chess. The streets were where they fought their battles. Sure, some of those guys are a bit nutty but so am I for that matter. To take away the simple pleasure of playing chess for a few dollars, mostly won from unsuspecting tourists, seemed a petty action. While the police couldn’t substantiate the accusation of drug dealing, they did conclude that they were gambling. I beg to differ. Chess is not a game of chance which is what constitutes gambling. It’s a game of skill. A person can plop down five dollars to play one of these hustlers and if the hustler wins you can consider your money spent on a valuable life lesson, don’t play chess with guys who earn their living playing chess all day. If you win, you get an additional five dollars and bragging rights. While these guys don’t pay taxes, they’re far from wealthy. This was hardly a back room poker game in Chinatown (I know those places because I’ve gambled there).

The chess hustlers got the boot but we relocated them thanks to the efforts of many of game players (including some professional gamblers who hate city hall). We organized a large noisy protest one Saturday that got great media coverage. We managed to get a marching band to play loudly to make our point. I did a number of interviews in which I challenged the city’s mayor and the entire board of supervisors to a simultaneous chess match. If I lost or drew one game, the hustlers had to go away. If I won, they stayed put. Of course, our mayor and supervisors refused. However, we did get them located to an even better site downtown. They have actual chess tables and benches in a nice park. However, the clock is ticking in regards to their remaining at their new location. San Francisco is currently squashing the culture that’s left in the city, opting for a homogenized landscape of high-end consumer emptiness. The chess hustlers are not pleasant to look at in the eyes of the wealthy millennial generation. They don’t want to see shabbily dressed men play chess in their pristine parks. It breaks my heart to see a city I made my name in turn into a cultural void. Those chess hustlers added much needed character to the landscape.

These guys simply love the game and for whatever reason only want to play it on the streets. Sure, they trash talk and employ every opening trap in the book against their naive opponents, but it’s all in good fun. Some of those guys are pretty good teachers and it’s not uncommon to see a businessman taking in a lesson with one of them. The chess hustler is a species of player who is heading toward extinction. In city after city, with gentrification steam rolling across the once gritty urban landscape, guys like these are being pushed out. They may not be everyone’s idea of a model citizen but they add color and character to their environment.

Maybe, because I’m eccentric, I accept those chess scoundrels as brethren. There’s a beauty and brilliance to these characters. To them I say shine on you crazy diamond. Somewhere there’s a place for you but sadly, it’s not San Francisco. Fortunately, the game itself will never be lost because too many people from all walks of life love it. It’s a common bond we who play the game share on a global scale. However, should we be forced to play chess behind walls where no one can see us? Are we that offensive? What’s offensive is the idea that a person can be judged on appearance rather than their accomplishments. Some of those chess hustlers have advanced college degrees but fell through society’s cracks along their journey through life. So for my street chess playing friends, I will always drive through the neighborhoods of those that tried to silence you and play my car stereo really loud, just to remind those snobs that you can’t keep a chess hustler down. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson

Back to Square One

Music and chess have so many parallel characteristics in regards to mastering either of them that the training method of one can successfully be applied to the other. We’ll start this article by examining the process employed when mastering a musical instrument, in this case the guitar. After reading this description, ask yourself if this sounds a lot like trying to master the game of chess. I think the similarities will astound you!

When I first starting playing guitar, my relationship with this instrument was casual at best, with the guitar spending much of the time collecting dust in my bedroom closet next to the chess set my mother purchased for me. However, when I turned 13, I suddenly found myself falling deeply in love with music thanks to albums by bands such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Jimi Hendrix. While my friends were listening to bubblegum rock, I was listening to the dark, complex side of rock and roll. During this period, I discovered that the guitar was the real star of those bands, creating amazing tones no human voice could come close to mimicking. Just as quickly as I discovered music, my guitar was pulled out of the closet and dusted off. I decided that I would master the guitar, being able to hold my own, note for note, with Jimmy Page. Taking the guitar out of the closet, dusting it off and deciding to fully master it left me feeling as if I finally found my true calling and purpose in life (as if that actually happens with a scatter brained thirteen year old). However, there was one slight problem with all of this, I actually had to learn how to play the guitar. Up until this point, I had simply banged away on the strings with reckless abandon, jumping up and down on my bed while Led Zeppelin blared loudly on my stereo. Therefore, since my parents were a bit dubious when it came to paying for guitar lessons, I took the road traveled by all professional musicians. I did what every other aspiring thirteen year old rock and roll guitarist did, I found someone on the block who knew a few chords. After I learned those chords, I found a guy in the neighborhood who knew a few guitar leads or solos, slowly working my way across the city’s burnt out guitarists (a frightening group of guys straight out of the movie Wayne’s World), one chord progression and lead guitar solo at a time.

So I finally because serious about learning to play the guitar. Back in the Stone Age, you had to learn songs either by ear, listening to an album and learning a song a single note at a time, or you purchased instructional books for aspiring guitarists. There were no home computer apps let alone the internet, so your choices were extremely limited. Learning a song one note at a time took up a great deal of time and most of us hadn’t developed the skill of listening to a song a few times and then playing it correctly. Eventually, we’d get there but not early on in our careers!

So I hit the books, learned a slough of chords, leads etc. I worked or trained with other guitarists, all of whom were much better than I. If you wish to master an instrument, you need to study with a teacher who is a master of that instrument. You don’t get better studying under teachers with less experience than you! Of course, you have to balance theory and practice. You can learn three hundred guitar leads and play them perfectly. Then you try them out with your neighborhood garage band and things sound terrible. They sound terrible because you’ve been sitting in your own garage, playing by yourself. You’ve had no interaction with other musicians so you don’t have the sense of rhythm needed to play succinctly when other instruments are involved.

It’s easy to learn a bunch of guitar leads. However, there’s more to guitar than just playing lead. You have to be a well rounded player rather than a specialist because great guitar players have impeccable rhythm or timing, knowing when to throw in a little lead work to spice things up and knowing when to keep their guitars quiet to let the drummer and bass player have a piece of the action. You have to look at guitar playing as a more dimensional art. If you listen to a great guitarist, you’ll hear them control the volume and tone of their guitars because they can accent certain parts of the song with something as simple as dropping their overall volume down or going from a distorted tone to a clean tone. What does this have to do with chess (if you didn’t find the similarities)?

Chess is a game in which you need to employ theory and practice. Theory is reading and studying chess books. While this is an important part of your training, it does no good unless you put that theory/studying into action through practice or playing. Just like the musician who spends too much time studying lead guitar books and not enough time playing with other people in a band, chess players need to balance the two, theory and practice! All the book studying in the world isn’t going to make you as good a player as the person who does both. Books will give you positional situations that are carefully set up while playing chess against human opponents will give you more realistic situations in which the game changes with each move. By realistic, I mean moves that you’re likely to encounter. What does any of this have to with going back to square one?

The best guitarists in the world will always go back to the basics (back to square one so to speak) and study them, even though they know the material at hand. Why? Because we often find that our playing has gotten off track and going back to our educational starting point often steers us back in the right direction. Practicing something as simple as scales will force our fingers to work with greater coordination. For example, guitarists tend to take short cuts, such as using three of our four fingers for playing notes because our littlest finger is the weakest finger on our left or right hand. We can play clearer note using three fingers. However, going back to playing scales with all four fingers gives us the ability to play more notes in a single phrase, so we go back to square one. Chess players, as they improve, sometimes take certain opening principles for granted, taking chance they never would have taken earlier in their career. Going back to square one is also a good way to break bad habits you might have developed. Of course, it’s harder to correct a bad habit than it is to maintain good habits! Going back to square one, even when you’re a strong player is a great idea, one that will improve your game (or your guitar playing). Speaking of games in which a titled player ignores some game principles, here’s one to enjoy until next week!


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Hugh Patterson

Yet Another Debate

Recently, a well known Grandmaster interviewed an extremely well know Grandmaster on camera. In an effort to keep Nigel and myself out of court (people get downright uppity when it comes to potential slander), we’ll refer to the Grandmaster doing the interview as GM X and the Grandmaster being interviewed as GM Y (sorry their aliases sound like nasty food additives from Company Z). Immediately after this interview took place, a nasty verbal internet riot was started by chess players from around the world. Chess forums and chat rooms were flooded with commentary about the incident which I’ll now describe.

GM X said to GM Y, “ You seem to have had some hiccups earlier today and you didn’t have really smooth performances (overall) and this game wasn’t that smooth either. It looked a little bit unclear. What’s your feeling overall as the game transpired?” GM Y replied, “OK, what do you want me to do…What do you want from me?” GM Y seemed to fixate on his usually perfect play being called less than smooth. GM Y became defensive. At one point I thought that dueling pistols would appear on the screen. GM Y then said GM X was trying to “belittle the whole thing.” Needless to say it was all down hill from that point on, with GM Y walking away in disgust. Of course, the line was drawn within the global chess community and two armies were formed to fight this verbal war, those who support GM Y and those who support GM X. Of course, thanks to technology, scores of people linked to the internet lined up to take their turn screaming from the bully pulpit, oops, I mean social media sites. Why am I even addressing this subject? Because I have intimate knowledge of this type of situation, being in the same position as GM Y, not as a chess player but as a musician. Let me explain.

As one does if one wants to become a Grandmaster, musicians spend years and years perfecting their craft, in my case guitar playing. While I always feel as if I’m in need of constant improvement, never understanding why people think I play so well, many people feel differently. According to those who know a bit about guitar playing, I’m pretty darn good. However, I still work at it constantly. A number of years ago, we played a series of shows that were close to flawless (and I find fault in everything I do musically). Each show was better than the last. Then we did the second to last show and things didn’t go so well. By this, I mean that the general audience didn’t notice anything wrong with my playing. We received three standing ovations (well, it was a club so everyone was already standing up). People sang along. Everyone appeared to have a great time, except me. I notice mistakes that no one else seems to hear. Unfortunately, one other individual heard those mistakes and that person was about to interview me. He was a dreaded music critic from a well know music magazine. The first question he asked was “Wow, what happened tonight? Seriously, that was not your best work on the guitar.” The old adage ‘those who do, do it and those who don’t write about it” came to mind. However, at that moment, I had two choices regarding the direction I would go regarding my answer. How I answered that question would either absolutely work for me or absolutely work against me. There’s an art to answering questions when being interviewed. Do it right and people love you even more. Do it wrong and you look like a sore loser, bad sport or worse.

I understand, from firsthand knowledge, how upsetting it can be to dedicate your life to something and have your skills questioned (even remotely) due to a single bad moment within a lifetime of success. You feel like saying to the interviewer “hey, when you’re at my level, then talk to me about it. Otherwise, shut up.” However, we can never achieve total and absolute perfection in our chosen craft. By this, I mean you cannot play either a guitar or a game of chess, without hitting a wrong note or making a bad move at some point during your career. We’re only human after all. However, when artists reach the highest level of their art, we expect them to excel and break even greater boundaries. When you’re at the top of your chosen field, people either expect perfection and nothing less from you or they’re gunning for you, waiting to see you fall. I know many musicians who feel this way. There’s a great deal of pressure when you’re great at something. People have an unhealthy fascination with the flaws that come with being human. Watching the self destruction of others is the true opiate of the masses.

I feel for GM Y but I don’t think he handled himself correctly. When I faced that moment with the music critic interviewing me I chose the right path and said “you’re absolutely right. Sometimes things fall apart. However, tonight’s show makes me want to work harder so it doesn’t happen again. Thank you for your honesty.” (I still wanted to give him a swift boot to his bottom side and really didn’t feel the need to slave away any further when it came to my playing) Of course, my interviewer wanted me to have a meltdown which would have been great for his interview. I didn’t give it to him, defused a potentially ugly situation and that was that. I think GM Y should have done something similar. He had a short, bad run in an otherwise near perfect career. Yet, because he behaved the way in which he did, tongues wagged across the world wide web. Of course, people often become very mean spirited when they can hide behind the shadowy curtain of the internet. I say to those who enjoyed GM Y’s antics, “can you play a better game of chess than GM Y? Have you dedicated your entire life to this game let alone anything else, spending your youth unbelievably focused?”

Now let’s get to GM X. If you know that someone can be temperamental, why not approach the dialogue with a bit more tack? While I know the questions were designed to spice the interview up, adding a little drama and tension to it, it was comparable to using dynamite to get rid of a small stain on your sofa. GM X is an extremely nice guy who does a lot of great things for the chess community. However, interviewing people requires a great deal of finesse. If you’ve watched top notch interviewers, you’ve seen how they can get answers to extremely tough questions through well thought out and well timed questions. GM Y literally started his interview with what could be conceived as a hostile question. Tact will get you a lot further in both interviews and life. GM X should have put himself in GM Y’s shoes while he was contemplating his questions.

As for the endless sea of amateur online chess commentators (not everyone who commented on the interview, just the trolls) whose ratings are closer to their own shoe size rather than that of a titled player, you might put yourself in GM Y’s shoes as well. Honestly ask yourself if you could withstand the pressure one is under when one is considered the best at something. You might also ask yourself if you could have played a better game. Until you’ve walked a mile in GM Y’s shoes, you don’t know how it feels. For those of you that enjoyed his becoming slightly unglued, I assume you’ve never, ever had a meltdown leaving you unglued. Whose right and whose wrong? Nobody and everybody. We’re human and we make mistakes. I’m sure GM X would rephrase his questions had he known the end result. Does GM Y’s behavior really change anything? No! At the end of the day GM Y is still a better chess player than any of us mere mortals. However, he does need to learn how to handle those tough questions with tact and even humor. Had he simply said “you’re right. It’s wasn’t my finest moment and I’ll be sure to determine why this happened and learn from it,” there would be no news to cause the great unwashed wagging tongues of the chess world to go into verbal overdrive. No news is good news I say. Here’s a game to get your tongues wagging until next week! Enjoy!

Hugh Patterson

Chess: Art Versus Science

While chess has been called both an art and a science, I can’t help but wonder if it’s losing its claim as an art. I was born into a generation who didn’t have cellphones, personal computers, tablets let alone the internet. To a typical teenager, this seems akin to having been born into the dark ages. My generation were explorers of our world which was our backyard and the surrounding neighborhood. When not in school, we were outside exploring the territory around us. Today, kids seem perfectly happy to sit with their faces glued to the screen of whatever technology they have at hand. Rather than feel the warm sands of a beach on their feet or feel the sun’s last glimmer of heat of their face as it sets over the mountains, they look at pictures of the beach and mountains instead. Don’t get me wrong, I love technology and use it in my chess teaching and coaching. However, I know that should I want to experience the beach or mountains, I actually have to go there. What do any of my rantings as an old man have to do with chess, art and science? Let me tell you a cautionary tale I tell all of my students.

Roughly one hundred and fifty years ago, the game of chess was vastly different than the form of the game we play today. While the rules and principles were the same as today, the style in which the game was played was different. It was a daring game played by those who truly wished to venture into the realm of the unexplored. My students will shrug at this last statement until the hear the rest of what I have to say. I always instruct my students to be seated before I make a statement that might drive some of them into having repeated nightmares for the rest of their lives. I loudly announce, “there once was a time in which there were no cellphones, tablets, personal computers or the internet.” Trust me when I say that at least a few kids gasp and recoil in horror.

Roughly one hundred and fifty years ago, if you wanted to learn the game of chess you did so through a family member or friend. Chess was a right of passage in some families, with the game being proudly handed down from father to son or daughter. Once, a game solely played by nobility and the rich, it became a game played by intellectuals and Bohemians (those smart tortured guys who sat around Paris Coffee Houses trying to eek out a living as philosophers or poets. No wonder they were tortured). It eventually found its way into the average household. In those days, the game was handed down from generation to generation the way in which traditions were once passed down around ancient campfires. To learn the game of chess you had to first find someone who knew the rules. This is a very romantic notion, one that I quite fancy, finding another human being to teach you something (as opposed to living life online)!

The reason learning the game required such human interaction, something in short supply today thanks to social media, was because there were very few accessible books on the game. People traveled by horse or train, so getting to a major metropolitan city to acquire a chess book might take three or four days. Because chess was handed down from generation to generation, person to person, combined with a lack of written information about the game, there was a vast expense of unexplored positional territory. Most people played simple e pawn openings because that’s what they were taught. Think of the huge (and I mean huge) number of possible positions within a single game of chess and combine that with the fact that most people played one type of opening and you can see that there was a great deal to explore in the way of opening theory, middle-game play, etc.

Players in the mid 1800’s, which was the romantic era of the game, played in a swashbuckling style. They played gambits and wildly sacrificed material. They took chances, seeing if making a move no one else considered might lead to a new way in which to gain an advantage. These players were truly explorers, a trait lacking in many of today’s younger players. Art on the chessboard was created greatly during this period as well as into the twentieth century. In some regards, art was more was more important to the players of this period. Let’s fast forward to today’s modern young player.

Today’s serious chess player has a plethora of training tools and options thanks to technology. When I first learned the game, we relied heavily on books since that’s all that was available (guys who play guitar in punk bands cannot afford real chess lessons). Thanks to technology, younger players have training partners and coaches in the form of software programs such as Houdini and Komodo. These are extremely sophisticated chess playing programs that can give players deep analysis regarding a single move they’re considering making. Technological advances in training software have allowed the world to produce the youngest Grandmasters in history (of course, it also requires natural talent). Technology and chess! Sounds like a winning combination, doesn’t it? Yes and no.

Technological advances have made a near exacting science out of the game we love so much. Yes, chess playing software has removed your chance of making bad moves but at a cost. Young up and coming, soon to be titled players, rely on their chess programs to tell them the merits of a move based on analysis of the best responses to that candidate move by the opposition, in this case a program with a 3000 plus chess rating. However, when you solely depend on your software program to decide whether a move is wrong or right, might you be missing out on the chance to explore uncharted territory on the chessboard.

Obviously, you don’t want to go on a wild chess exploration while playing for a national championship. However, what’s so wrong about exploring when not playing in tournaments? Some of you would answer that these software programs have explored all there is to explore. After all, if there was something new out there, wouldn’t the computer program have found it? To that I say this: Humans, using technology, have the entire planet mapped out. We have a map for every square inch of our home planet (and other planets as well). However, why is it that we discover new species nearly every single day? Think about that for a moment. If you think of the huge number of possible positions that can be reached within a single game of chess, a number with more zeros attached to it than you can comfortably count, doesn’t it reason that there’s more territory to explore? Might not we create some amazing art on the chessboard just by doing so?

By simply sticking to what our software programs tell us to do, we’re dulling a game that once sparkled with possibility to a flat monotone hue. There has to be a middle ground. Much of the great music created throughout history was flawed by a wrong note played, a mismatched tempo or even imperfections in the equipment. Glorious mistakes from which high art was born. Again, I’m not saying you should purposely makes moves that lead to disaster. However, a little positional chaos can turn an otherwise boring game into an artistic masterpiece. Chaos drives art. Chaos forces you to look at things in a different way. Many of today’s young players only listen to their chess software’s suggestions, never wondering what would happen if they simply said “no Houdini, I’m going to try something else.” If Houdini suddenly wrote “You need to jump off a bridge now” in the analysis window, I suspect a few overzealous players might ponder this idea for a moment or two.

When we try new things, we usual fail, often many times. However, there are those individuals who keep trying and just when it seems that they wasted their time, the solution to their problem reveals itself. I blame chess software for creating a rising number of drawn games at professional levels. I constantly hear about promoters who want to bring professional chess to the masses. It’s great idea but you have to make the game exciting to people with a marginal interest in chess. Drawn game after drawn game isn’t going to do it. We need another Paul Morphy whose games were exciting because he often played dangerously. People like excitement. I would like to see some young player throw chess theory upside down. I don’t know exactly how but with so many possible positions within a single game, human’s might have missed something. Here’s one of those games that is crazy but exciting. Enjoy!

Hugh Patterson

Three Good Moves

When we first start playing chess, we often make the first move we see, good, bad or indifferent (usually the move falls under the heading of bad when you first start you chess career). Of course, we’re still learning the basics of the game so this is a natural part of the learning process. More astute beginners might stare at the board for a few minutes, examine the position from both sides and only then making a move. Thinking they’ve spent enough time to have found a good move, they’re often shocked when that supposedly well thought out move turns out to be a bad choice. Chess is about decision making and there’s an art or skill to this process. The first step in the decision making process is taking the time to properly make a good decision.

Last week at our Yearly Academic Chess Summer Camp, I noticed that our beginner’s group was playing extremely fast as if it were a game of Blitz. I looked on in horror as hanging pieces (those that can be captured free of charge) were not only there for the taking but remained there for many moves. Had these beginners taken more time to consider their moves, they might have seen and captured those hanging pieces. However, there’s more to making good moves than simply taking your time. You have to employ a logical system that allows you to find good moves and that’s what this article examines.

While it’s true that patience is an absolutely crucial skill in chess, simply staring at the board for a long time, with your thoughts scattered about, does a player little good. You have to employ a logical system with which to examine the position at hand in order to determine the best move. This is the toughest challenge beginner’s face when learning the game. Therefore, we have to assess the position in a sequential, logical order, starting with threats.

Threats, either yours or your opponents, are the first order of business. You must identify threats. Too often, beginners will blindly consider their potential threats which blinds them to those of their opponent. Therefore, every time your opponent makes a move, look for a threat by that opposition pawn or piece. This means looking at every square that pawn or piece is attacking and determining whether or not one of your pawns or pieces is on one of those squares under attack. If one of your pawns or pieces is under attack, determine whether or not to move that pawn or piece or defend it. In assessing this idea of moving or defending, the beginner should first determine the value of the attacking piece versus the value of the piece being attacked. If a three point Knight is attacking a five point Rook, then the Rook should be moved. If the pieces are of equal value, ask yourself, can I move the attacked piece to a more active square? If you can, then your opponent may be doing you a positional favor! You never want to make moves that help your opponent and if your opponent does so, take advantage of them. Good moves serve to strengthen your position.

If the pieces are of equal value and you cannot move the attacked piece to a more active square, then defend it. Again, consider the value of potential defenders. Obviously, if you defend a piece with a pawn then your opponent may reconsider capturing it, especially if doing so does nothing to help their position. However, make sure to look at the position to see if capturing your piece will create an opening in your defenses that allows for a strong opposition attack. If so, you may have to build up your defenses around the attacked piece and potential positional opening. Don’t worry my novice chess playing friends, most beginner’s games will not have such calculated attacks, so you probably will not face this issue until later in your chess careers. However, be aware that more experienced players will sacrifice material to open up the position for an attack.

Now look for potential threats you can create. With beginner’s games, those threats often revolve around hanging pieces. Look to see if any of your opponent’s pawns or pieces are hanging. If there are no hanging pawns or pieces, see if there are any threats you can make. When you first start playing you don’t think in terms of threats. Threats come in varying degrees of severity, a potential checkmate being the strongest threat. We’ve already looked for hanging pieces so next we see if there are any threats you can make that force your opponent to respond with a move he or she doesn’t want to make. What kind of move is this? One that slows down their development or one that weakens their position. If you can further activate your pawns and pieces while threatening your opponent’s material, while weakening their position or forcing them to make moves they don’t want to make, you traveling along the correct road to mastery! Good threats include attacking a piece of greater value with a piece of lesser value, moves that check the opposition King and force him to move (prior to Castling) or moves that set up tactical plays (forks, pins, skewers, etc). Then there’s the counter threat.

If your opponent threatens one of your pieces, see if you can make a bigger threat. If you opponent attacks one of your minor pieces with a pawn, look to see if you can threaten an opposition piece of greater value with either a pawn or a piece of lesser value. You opponent will have to deal with the bigger threat, yours, which may lead to them having to make a positional concession which could give you an advantage!

Always look to further activate your pawns and pieces, especially during the early phases of the game. Before starting to play for Middle-game exchanges, develop your pawns and pieces to their most active squares, especially those that allow pieces to control more of the board. As I stated in earlier articles, the more control of the board you have (especially on your opponent’s side of the board), the greater your options. The greater your options, the fewer options your opponent has. This leads to winning games.

Once we’ve done this, we must look for at least three good moves. I tell my students that the difference between a good move and a great move is this: A good move is just that, a good move. A great move is one that wins the game (or creates an overwhelming advantage). To find that great move, you have to consider a few good candidate moves (moves we’re thinking about making). Just jumping on the first move you see might cause you to miss that great move. Therefore, you should try to think of at least three good moves. When you think of each move, make a mental note to yourself as to why that move is good. Have sound/good reasons for that move! If you can’t come up with a good reason for the move in question then it’s not a good move! Then compare the three moves and decide which of them is the best. If you do this every time you’re considering a move, you’ll win more games than you lose (eventually). Speaking of moves, here’s a game to enjoy until next week that has more than a few good moves in it. Enjoy!

Hugh Patterson

Chess and Jazz

Because I spend the majority of my time teaching chess, I often forget that I’m a musician. I play guitar as well as other instruments. How good am I? Well, my professional guitar playing peers consider me an excellent guitarist, although I always think I need improvement. I have a fairly large fan base for the kind of music I play and have been sited by bands such as Social Distortion and Green Day as being influential regarding their own playing. I mention this because the Grammy’s, those folks that do that yearly award show, just cut a check to pay for the last of my medical expenses. A few months ago, their Board (Music Cares) met and decided (for the second time) that I was worthy of help. I qualified because I am a recording artist who has sold records. Why am I mentioning all this? Because, upon getting the news, I felt guilty about not playing and recording in a while and decided to go back to playing music professionally (as long as it doesn’t get in the way with my chess teaching which is a stipulation in my current record contract). Enter Jazz guitar.

I honestly became bored with playing rock and roll, not because I don’t like it but because it wasn’t technically challenging. I decided to do a Jazz band that focused on Jazz from 1959. I asked a fellow guitar player who the toughest Jazz guitarist to emulate was and he said Wes Montgomery. That was who I’d study. I found some charts of Montgomery’s songs and within ten minutes of starting to learn them I knew I was in over my head. That made me smile because it was the type of challenge I live for. What does this have to do with chess?

You cannot get better at anything unless you take on a challenge that is above your skill set. For example, playing stronger opponents will lead to improvement. Learning Jazz guitar leads when you’ve mainly played rock and roll is like learning a complicated opening. You sit there staring at a sequence of notes or chess moves feeling as if you have no clue as to what’s really going on. However, if you stick with it and work hard, it eventually becomes clear. You slowly master it. You only master it when you put in a great deal of time. Push your boundaries and venture outside of your comfort zone.

One of the aspects of Jazz guitar I really enjoy is the seemingly endless choice of guitar solos. Rock tends to be Blues based so lead guitar work can (but not always) be limited. On the other hand, Jazz, because of it’s broader range of rhythmic drum beats and early prolific experimentation, allows for a greater range of soloing. In chess, you want to explore the many openings and playing styles available before settling on one. In short experiment! Openings are like a specific genre of music. Some have greater complexity than others which requires working harder to master them. Some provide greater options in regards to the direction your game goes in. Some lead to open games while others lead to closed games. Which you chose depends on your personality and how much effort you want to put into theory and study. Again, challenge yourself, aim for the stars and if you fall short of your goal, you’ll still be light years ahead of where you would have been had you simply set a small overall goal. There’s nothing wrong with practical goals that can be easily reached but you should try setting tougher goals that force you to work harder than you ever have. I like openings that give me options. Of course, if you’re a beginner you want to learn the basics first. When first learning to play guitar, you start with basic chords and simple leads. That doesn’t mean you can’t dream of playing like Hendrix! However, you have to build up your playing skills before you arrive at that destination.

Music is an art and so is chess, at least it should be! I’m of the opinion that computer software and technology in general have taken some of the art out of the game. Let me give you an example of how technology has taken a lot of the art out of music:

When I was coming up in the music world, you had to learn to play your instrument if you stood a chance of getting anywhere. While I literally learned to play while standing on a stage in front of people, an opportunity only afforded me thanks to punk rock, you were expected to get better if you wanted to survive. Back then, we didn’t have guitar effects that would essentially make us sound better even if we weren’t good musicians. Today, you can purchase an inexpensive set of effects that make you sound like a technical genius. You can also use effects to make your singing voice sound pitch perfect. What’s so bad about this technology? Some of the best recordings are flawed recordings in which wrong notes and bad tones actually make the musical composition better. Art is created by those who take chances, go against the societal grain and sometimes hit the wrong, right note! With chess, so many younger players strictly adhere to what their chess engines and databases tell them to do. Play through the games of chess’s romantic era, the 1800’s, and you’ll see dangerous and daring art. The same holds true with players like Tal and Spassky, who created art on the chessboard. If Tal played guitar he would have been a Jazz innovator.

Of course, you don’t want to play chess haphazardly, but you do want to experiment a bit. Try new things out, take a chance or two. You might find you like the outcome and even if you don’t, you can at least say you tried. If I had a dollar for every time I heard a student say “well, Houdini says I should make this move,” I’d be writing this article from my villa somewhere on an island I owned!

Jazz, or any music as long as it inspires you, is good to have playing in the background when you play chess. I know some people need silence to play but I find that music can push me further on the chessboard. I have a play list of songs, mostly Jazz from 1959, that inspires me, pushes me one step further in my playing. Well, there you have it, a little music and a little chess. Often, you can find the answers you seek regarding one endeavor in another seemingly unrelated subject. Of course, music and chess are very much related since a few brilliant chess players have also bee professional musicians. I know many musicians who play a lot of chess when on tour. They may be rock and roll animals when on stage but become quiet studious players when they sit down at the chessboard. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week. This guy could really rock the piano, classically speaking!

Hugh Patterson

Opening Principles Part Seven: Middle-Game Preparation

When beginners learn and begin to master the opening principles they often think, after the last basic principle has been applied, that it’s time to start attacking. While attacking is the crucial factor when it comes to winning games, launching into one prematurely can and usually does, lead to a weakened position from which one can never fully recover. If you play through the games of master level players, you’ll see that they only attack when the time is right. When’s the right time? Read on and you’ll find out.

Obviously, if your opponent provides you with an opportunity to launch a successful attack early on you should consider doing so. When I play beginning students, they provide ample opportunity for me to launch into attacks that greatly alter the balance of the game in my favor. Beginner’s games tend to have a lot of weak positions that allow for early attacks. I teach my beginning students to avoid launching early early attacks, those during the opening, and instead build up their position. Of course, I teach them how to spot a potential early attack and what they can do to stop it. After all, I’d be a dreadful chess teacher if I didn’t teach defensive methods.

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, when you play through the games of the masters you’ll see that they methodically build up their position, only attacking when the position warrants it? What do I mean by this? Typically, a beginner who takes the opening principles to heart will control the center with a pawn or two, develop three or four of their minor pieces (Knights and Bishops), Castle their King to safety and connect their Rooks (moving their Queen up a rank). Then they’ll start looking for possible attacks. They might spot a potential attack but that attack will depend on their opponent making a specific move or two that allows the attack to take place. This is wishful thinking chess. Our beginner, in this example, is counting on their opponent doing something specific in terms of a move. This specific move is what the beginner wants not what their opponent wants. Our beginner is seeing the position only in terms of what opposition moves work for that beginner’s plan. Their opponent is most likely going to make a move that counters our beginner’s plan which leaves the beginner in a jam!

The mistake our beginner is making is launching an attack that will only succeed if their opponent makes essentially bad moves. This is unrealistic since your opponent also wants to win the game and has plans of his or her own! When a plan solely depends on a move or two being made by the opposition and those moves aren’t made, then the attack falls apart. How do we create a position that leads to a successful attack? By increasing the number of pieces that can partake in an attack so we have greater attacking options! How do we do that?

We continue the development of pawns and pieces. Just because you’ve controlled the center with a pawn or two, developed your minor pieces, Castling your King and connected your Rooks, doesn’t mean you’re ready for the Middle-game where attacks generally start. There’s further development to be had! Of course, you want to bring a new piece into the game during each opening move but you can, after having achieved this goal, bring those pieces to more active squares. What are active squares? Those squares that allow your pawns and pieces to control opposition squares (the squares on your opponent’s side of the board). For example, a White Knight on c3 might consider moving the d5, only if it’s safe, in order to attack more squares on the opposition’s side of the board. However, before you start considering moving pieces for a second time, take a look at your Rooks.

Beginner’s tend to neglect their Rooks. A beginner playing the White pieces might Castling King-side but leave their Rook dormant on the f1 square. While that Rook is more active than it was prior to Castling (when it was trapped on the h1 square), moving it to e1 would allow it to access the e file which is especially important if Black hasn’t Castled yet. Then there’s the other Rook, the Rook on a1 in the case of King-side Castling (by White). Once the Rooks are connected, they have the ability to work along their starting rank, acting as bodyguards for pawns you might want to push up (or down in the case of Black) the board later on. Pawns can be further developed. While beginner’s learn not to make flank pawn moves during the opening, if there’s a Black Bishop on c8, a White Knight onf3 and White Queen on d1, White might want to move the h pawn from h2 to h3, preventing a potential relative pin. However, it’s more important to develop your minor pieces first before making such a pawn move.

Sometimes we’re forced to move a minor piece to a square that is less active during the start of the opening because the opposition controls the square we initially wanted to move to. Can we develop the piece in question to a better square? If we can we should, especially before launching an attack. The more pieces you can employ in an attack, the better your attack will be. Think of it this way, if you have five attackers and you opponent has three defenders, their chances of warding off your attack are far less than if the number of attackers versus defenders was equal. Greater force (when attacking) is a key idea. However, to have a greater attacking force you first have to activate your pieces.

Slowly developing or moving your pawns and pieces to active squares gives you greater attacking options. Namely, you have more potential ways to attack. If your pieces are centrally located, controlling a large number of squares on your opponent’s side of the board, you’ll be able to launch attacks from more locations that your opponent can defend. You opponent might build up a good defense on one part of the board but, because you have centrally located pieces, you can attack elsewhere. Having options within your plan is crucial. The problem with most beginner’s plans is that they’re based on a specific move being made by their opponent. Having options also means being flexible. Thus, if your opponent makes a move you didn’t see coming, you’ll be able to address that opposition plan accordingly because you have actively developed your pieces. You can’t anticipate every move your opponent might make which means you could be attacked. However, if your pawns and pieces are actively placed, you have a much better chance of surviving.

When you look at your position and think there’s nothing there, look again! You’ll probably find a pawn or piece that can be further activated or developed. When you have greater control of the board, which only happens when your pieces are more actively positioned than your opponent’s pieces, you opponent may be forced to make a move he or she doesn’t want to make. That can lead to a better position for you and a winning game. The watchwords for the day are pawn and piece activity. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson

Opening Principles Part Six: Managing Principles

We’ve looked at what to during the opening and what not to do during the opening. To review, what we should do is control the board’s center from the start with a pawn, develop our minor pieces (Knights and Bishops) to active squares (those that control the center) and Castle our King to safety. What we shouldn’t do is make too many pawn moves, move the same piece more than once (unless necessary) and bring out our Queen early. These opening principles have been around for a long, long time and have been proven to work. They’re simple enough to learn and their logic is somewhat self explanatory. However, applying these principles accurately during the opening, the first ten to fifteen moves (typically, although some opening variations are longer), can be difficult for the beginner. Applying the opening principles requires knowing when to make a specific principled move. It’s all about exact timing. Take Castling for example.

We know that many beginner’s games are lost due to the novice player not Castling his or her King to safety. Having a safe King means that you can get on with the business of attacking your opponent’s King. Beginner’s are taught that they need to get their King Castled as soon as possible. As a chess teacher and coach, I tell my beginning students this, but I do so to get them into the habit of Castling early in their chess careers. As they improve, I then teach them to hold off on Castling, if their King is safe, so they can further develop their pawns and pieces during the opening. Knowing an opening principle, such as Castling your King to safety, is important, but knowing just when to Castle is even more important. During the opening phase of the game, gaining control of the board, especially the central squares, is the most important task. If given the choice between Castling when your King is safe or furthering the development of your pawns and pieces, development should be your choice.

Another important decision to make during the opening is which minor pieces to develop (move) first. The minor pieces, the Knights and Bishops, have the same relative value, three points each. We know the opening principles tell us to bring our minor pieces out during the opening. However, which minor pieces should we develop first? The beginning player we consider both equal in terms of development. However, if given the choice between developing a Knight or a Bishop, you may want to consider the Knight. Why? Knights have the ability to jump over pawns and pieces, be they your own or your opponent’s. This means that you don’t have to move a pawn prior to bringing a Knight into the game. After 1. e4…e5, developing the King-side Knight to f3 (2. Nf3) is most often played because it allows the Knight to develop actively with tempo. Tempo is time in chess terms and a Knight on f3 attacks Black’s e5 pawn, forcing Black to defend that pawn. While you could move the King-side Bishop to c4, which would attack a central square as well as Black’s weak f7 pawn, the Knight move to f3 is more forcing, in that it causes Black to react by defending the e5 pawn. Therefore, you should consider the order in which you develop pieces during the opening.

Another consideration is cooperation between your pawns and pieces. Good chess player’s pawns and pieces work together. They support one another rather than acting independently of one another. If you have a White pawn on e4 and Black moves a Knight to f6 to attack it, how do you defend it? This brings up the idea of not blocking in your pawns and pieces. If you have your King-side Bishop on it’s starting square (f1) and you defend the e4 pawn by moving the d pawn to d3, you’re blocking in the Bishop. This means that Bishop doesn’t have immediate access to key squares that help to control the center. A better move (for beginners) would be developing the Queen-side Knight from b1 to c3. From it’s c3 perch, the Knight not only defends the e4 pawn but it puts pressure on the d5 square. Remember, you want to control central squares on your opponent’s side of the board. Beginner’s sometimes defend the e4 pawn by playing their King-side Bishop to d3 which blocks in the d2 pawn as well as the Bishop on c1. Always consider moves that don’t block your pieces in.

Play for piece activation during the opening rather than fast attacks. The problem with fast attacks in the hands of the novice player is that they more often than not fall apart which leads to a losing game. When developing your pawns and pieces during the opening, always try to get them on their most active squares. A typical opening for the beginner is the Italian Opening, which starts off 1. e4…e5, 2. Nf3…Nc6, 3. Bc4. These first three moves for White adhere to the opening principles. If Black plays 3. Nf6, you have a few choices as what to do as White on move four. You could Castle (4. 0-0). I mentioned that you should put off Castling if your King is safe, which the White King is at this point. However, Castling activates your King-side Rook which can than be moved to e1 should the f6 Knight capture the e4 pawn. Black would have to react to this move in a defensive manner. You could also consider 4. Nc3 developing your Queen-side Knight which defends the e4 pawn and puts pressure on d5. If Black played 3…Bc5 you could play c3 preparing for d4 on a subsequent move, ignoring the potential attack on e4, if Black plays 4…Nf6, and preparing to attack Black’s center. Remember if the f6 Knight takes on the e4 pawn, you can always move the Rook to e1. These moves have logical reasons behind them. They’re following the opening principles but also are part of a plan. While the opening principles provide a plan that covers the length of the opening, your opponent is going to do everything possible to disrupt your plan.

This means you have to be flexible with your opening moves (and opening plan). Make moves that do more than one thing when possible. In our above example, when the Black Knight moved to f6 and White countered by moving his Queen-side Knight to c3, the move did two things. It defended the attacked White pawn and put pressure on d5. This is why pieces are stronger when centrally located. The more squares a piece controls, the greater your options. If you have more options than your opponent, you’ll have a better game. The greater a piece’s options, the greater it’s ability to be flexible if your plans suddenly change do to an unexpected opposition move. Plans change during a chess game and when your opponent makes a move that changes your plan, you have to be able to adjust and take a new course of action.

Rook activation is very important. Just because your Rooks usually become active later in the game, doesn’t mean they can’t be useful early on. Beginner’s often activate one Rook via Casting but leave the other Rook sitting in the corner on it’s starting square. Connect your Rooks by moving the Queen up one Rank which allows both Rooks to move along their starting rank. However, to connect your Rooks, you must activate your minor pieces first so they don’t restrict their (Rooks) movement. Rooks are excellent bodyguards that can guard pawns you want to move across the board later in the game.

In closing, it comes down to activity, coordination and knowing who to bring into the opening and when to bring them into the game. I suggest playing through some openings and, after each move, asking yourself why that move was made and what opening principle does it adhere to. Studying games is a sure fire way to improve your game. Also don’t play mechanically. For example, we don’t like to move a piece twice during the opening, instead bringing a new piece into the game with each move. However, if you’re about to lose a Knight and the choice is treating this principle as a hard rule and losing the Knight or bending the principle and moving the Knight out of danger, move the Knight. Principles are not rules of the game but good ideas. Speaking of games, here’s one to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson